Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Military secret sacrificed on the altar of politics

Then Superintendent of Police in charge of "special operations" in the Kandy Division, Kulasiri Udugampola, raided No 844, Millennium City, Athurigiriya, on the night of January 2, 2002.

He seized a booty of military hardware - Light anti tank weapons, anti tank mines, land mines, assault rifles, claymore mines, thermo baric weapons and green stripe uniforms used by Tiger guerrillas among them. He arrested a Captain and four regular soldiers of the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Also arrested was a former Tiger guerrilla cadre who surrendered and was helping the Army.

The goods and the men were brought to the Military Police Headquarters in Narahenpita. Crowds of media personnel including TV cameraman failed to gain entry there. Later the same night, they were moved to Cinnamon Gardens Police Station.
Whilst the men were detained in a room, the media were allowed to view and photograph all the military items displayed inside the Police Station. Thereafter the Army men and their helper were driven in a vehicle to Kandy guarded by two armed policemen. In the wee hours of the morning, they were thrust into remand cells where common criminals were kept. Detention Orders to hold them in custody were issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

It was made out that premises No 844 at the Millennium City was a secret hide out from where military men had planned to carry out assassinations on United National Front (UNF) Government leaders. The Police raid had busted their plans, or so it seemed.

On January 6, 2002, The Sunday Times (Situation Report) revealed exclusively in a report headlined "How a 'top State secret' became public" that the hide-out was in fact a Safe House run by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). It was from this "forward operations cell" that Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) infiltrated areas in the guerrilla dominated east to attack targets. The men, far from being suspected terrorists, were those hunting them down during top secret operations.

The Sunday Times said that just before the raid, the LRRP team's most accomplished task was the assassination of Thambirasa Kuhashanthan alias Nizam, guerrilla Military Intelligence leader for Batticaloa. It was Nizam who had been directing all suicide and other attacks in the City at that time. One of his prize targets then was former Cabinet Minister, C.V. Gooneratne.

Despite this revelation and more disclosures in The Sunday Times, sections of the media continued a relentless campaign to make out that no LRRP activity existed. This was whilst guerrillas launched a vicious campaign against LRRP operatives and informants. Until now, over 44 persons, enlisted intelligence operatives, policemen, civilian informants and members of Tamil moderate political parties have been assassinated. There have been 31 attempted killings and 17 abductions. Tiger guerrilla chief peace negotiator, Anton Balasingham, also complained on numerous occasions about LRRP operations. He called them deep penetration units of the Army.

And now, after a year and eleven months, a one man Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the matter has declared the raid "was a total betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation." It has concluded that Mr. Udugampola "backed up with political patronage" stalled these covert operations and "betrayed this gallant unit."
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry "into the disclosure of the existence of and the raid on the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at Athurugiriya" comprised D. Jayawickrema, retired Judge of the Court of Appeal.

Chapters dealing with "FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS ONLY" in the 202 page (with annexure) was released to the media by the President's Office on Thursday. They constitute 29 pages and contain the findings on each term of reference. Based on that, the Commission has also made its own conclusions. The Commission sat from August 2002 to November 2003 and heard 69 witnesses. I was one of them. Its report was handed over to President Chandrika Kumaratunga on December 5.

Mr. Udugampola, is now an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), after he was reverted to his substantive rank in an unrelated fundamental rights case. Whilst carrying out the raid, he said, he was armed with a Court order. The Commission has found that such a Court order was non existent. He has admitted this fact in his evidence. In other words, he lied.

Pointing out that the "raid itself cannot be faulted if it was conducted on the basis of searching for a suspect in the Udathalawinna murder, namely Chanuka Ratwatte," the Commission has ruled that "the evidence suggests this was a cover up."
An informant (Morasus Mathoj Nilanga) has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr Udugampola in a fundamental rights case against him. "But the Investigation Officers of this Commission were not able to find the informant in the given address or anywhere else. Nilanga's informant Ajith was reported to be dead," the Commission report said.

The fundamental rights case referred to has been filed in the Supreme Court by the DMI Officer and his men. The Sunday Times did not disclose their names in the past. However, since they are now in the public domain and are referred to in the Commission report, the officer and men can now be identified as Captain Mohamed Nilam, Staff Sergeant Edirisinghe Jayamanne, Sergeant Ananda Udalagama, Lance Corporal Mohamed Silmy and Corporal Nissanka Herath. The civilian is Saras Subashkaran.

Though a propaganda campaign was mounted by interested groups to cover up the controversy over the Police raid on the Safe House, there were several behind the scene manoeuvres for damage control. This was at the highest levels of the UNF leadership. The Sunday Times learnt that at least three senior Cabinet Ministers and two top officials brought pressure on Captain Nilam and his group through various means to withdraw their fundamental rights case.

They were assured handsome cash rewards, jobs in diplomatic missions or even residence in a country of their choice with sufficient funds to start a new life with their families. The overtures, however, were turned down. The judgement in the fundamental rights case is now pending.

The commission said: "ASP Udugampola has not noted down the information he received regarding a murder suspect hiding or visiting the Safe House nor has he made any surveillance before the raid. In fact ASP Udugampola admitted in his evidence that one of the reasons he had in his mind when he decided to raid this Army Safe House, was the information and publicity given in the media before the Elections that a DMI unit was being trained to attack the United National Party leadership and their campaign bus by using thermo baric weapons. The IGP, DIGs, and SSP in the Kandy region giving evidence faulted ASP Udugampola for not recording the information said to have been received by him about Chanuka Ratwatte, and also for not making surveillance prior to the raid."

The Commission held that the action taken by Mr. Udugampola was "illegal, immoral and in violation of all the rules and regulations of the Police." He has acted "arbitrarily and capriciously," it said. Noting "if one is to accept the totality of the evidence led before the Commission," the report has declared that "ASP Udugampola was immune to any supervisory procedure and he has behaved as a Supreme Commander who was above the law." Therefore, it has held that "there were no compelling reasons whatever for ASP Udugampola to raid the Safe House at Millennium City, Athurugiriya or take further action in the manner he did in taking into custody of the Army personnel."

How did the raid on the "Safe House" come about? The Commission says Mr. Udugampola conspired with a set of Army officers. The report sets out the chronology of events: There is strong evidence Col. D.P. Dissanayake, USP psc, made attempts to obtain the address of this Safe House before the 2001 December General Election, and also just a few days before the raid through Major M.B. de S. Jayatillake, RSP MIC - GSP 1 DMI, and Corp. M.P. Anura Peiris, MPA MIC. The evidence of these officers themselves proves this fact. Knowing Cpt. Nilam very well there was no necessity for Col. D.P. Dissanayake to find out the address and the whereabouts of Nilam through his junior officers. If he wanted he could have directly contacted Capt. Nilam and got whatever information he wanted. Col. Dissanayake's explanation was that he wanted to contact Capt. Nilam to get his assistance in respect of the house Col. Dissanayake was building at Malabe.

"The evidence before this Commission further discloses the fact that Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, SLCMP, brother of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola, Major General Ivan Dissanayake and Colonel K.H.N. S.S. Dharmaratna, Major A.C.A. de Soysa, SLCMP, Major A.S.P. Podiralahamy, SLCMP, Major K.U. Jayanetti, SLCMP, Major B.M.A.N.S.K. Karunaratne, MIC, Corp, J.H.A.P de Silva, JHAT-MIC, Corp. M.P.A. Pieris, JHAT-MIC, were all aware of the impending raid and have directly and indirectly assisted ASP Kulasiri Udugampola in raiding the Safe House.

"If these officers had any doubts about the Safe House they should have brought it to the notice of the Army Commander and moved the Military Police to investigate. But these officers, without doing so, have conspired with Kulasiri Udugampola to raid this Safe House for their own personal benefits. Moreover, none of these officers have informed Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle) or the Director, DMI (Brigadier Kapila Hendavithana) about the raid before the raid."

The Commission has held that the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle came to know about the raid only after it was carried out. He had been informed by Brigadier Hendavithana. The Commission said: "But ASP Udugampola has been in contact with Major General Ivan S. Dassanayake, Provost Marshal in the Military Police, since December 2001 in respect of the Udathalawinna murder case seeking his assistance to arrest some Army Officers who were supposed to be absconding. This was just after the General Election of 5th December 2001. ASP Udugampola was known to Major General Ivan Dassanayake as ASP Udugampola's brother Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola was also attached to the Military Police. Ivan Dassanayake detailed Major Clifford de Zoysa to assist ASP Udugampola in respect of arresting any Army officers who were supposed to be suspects in the Udathalawinna murder trial.

"Major General Ivan Dassanayake in his evidence said that ASP Udugampola did not specify any officer by name in seeking his assistance. But ASP Udugampola has obtained an order from the Acting Magistrate, Teldeniya Magistrate's Court, to release Major Clifford de Soysa to assist him in the Udathalawinna murder case. According to the evidence ASP Udugampola has selected Major Clifford de Soysa for this purpose on his own as he was known to him.

"Although the above order of the Acting Magistrate is addressed to Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, there is no evidence whatsoever that this letter was shown or presented or submitted to the Army Commander. The contents of this order contradicts the evidence of Major General Ivan Dassanayake to the effect that ASP Udugampola did not specify an officer by name and that he himself named Clifford de Soysa to assist ASP Udugampola.

"In any case, ASP Kulasiri Udugampola's intention to raid the Safe House or the names of the Army Officers to be arrested was not disclosed to the Army Commander or any officer on his behalf before the raid. Even the names of the Army suspects in the Udathalawinna murder case were not disclosed to the Army Commander or any other senior officers on his behalf. This clearly shows the sinister motives of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola."

The Commission also deals with the political aspects. It apportions blame on the Government, Prime Minister and Ministers. That for allowing a "situation where Mr. Udugampola was immune to any supervisory procedure and behaved as a Supreme Commander."

The report points out "...The presence of retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Lal Ratnayake, Private Secretary to Interior Minister John Ameratunga at the Military Police on the night of the raid on the instructions of the Minister of Interior, and the Minister of Interior contacting the Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Communication and Secretary to the Defence Ministry, and ASP Udugampola contacting the Minister of Interior on the telephone leads to the only conclusion that due to political patronage ASP Udugampola has behaved as if he was above the law and that he can act the way he wanted to."

"In fact the Army Commander and Brig. Hendavithana accepted complete responsibility in respect of the Safe House and its legality which was of no avail due to the obstinacy of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola," declares the Commission report.
The Sunday Times learns that President Kumaratunga will soon write to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle and acting Inspector General of Police, Indra de Silva, directing them to take action on the recommendations made by the Commission. The move is to include the placing of those on whom indictments are made on compulsory leave. This is prior to further investigations and the framing of charges.
In its conclusions, the Committee report notes that "The United Front Government's continued silence, in the wake of the obvious embarrassment, made matters worse in the case of the Athurugiriya Safe House fiasco."

It is true indeed. The raid came barely a month after the UNF Government was voted to office. Instead of attempting to cover up the issue, if immediate remedial measures were taken, lives could have been saved and the irreparable damage caused to national security interests could have been very easily avoided. That such inaction humiliated the nation's intelligence community and hampered their work by distancing them from their own informants is unpardonable. The lack of co-ordination after the Police department was handed over from the Defence to the Interior Ministry is now clear.

The Safe House fiasco was a colossal blunder. The same can be said of the so-called Defence Reforms Committee appointed by the UNF to bring about reforms in the defence establishment. Despite repeated disclosures in The Sunday Times the Committee, which came to be called a "one man show" did not seek broader public consultation or a greater cross section of the armed forces. It only focused on recommendations to strip the powers of the President and Commander in Chief.
This week Defence Secretary Cyril Herath executed a Presidential directive calling upon the Defence Reforms Committee to halt all its work from December 31.

ccordingly its only functioning member, retired Army Commander Lt. Gen. Denis Perera, has called off all Sub Committee meetings and other consultations he had planned. The DRC's office at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall is being shut down. This is after millions of tax payer's money has been wasted.
If these were serious lapses under the UNF government, in the sphere of defence there were more. Since the ceasefire of February 22, 2002, the military balance changed with a Tiger guerrilla strengthening of their military machine. This was through increased recruitment and smuggling of more state-of-the-art military hardware. This was whilst desertions in the security forces increased and their requirements to update equipment or supplement dwindling stocks of ammunition were neglected.

Priority attention by the UNF was focussed on down sizing the Army and finding placements for personnel in the UN Peace keeping Force. This in the mistaken belief that a peace settlement has already been reached. It is in this backdrop that President Kumaratunga took over the defence and interior portfolios. This was together with mass communication. It is in this same backdrop that the UNF leadership is demanding the defence portfolio back. That is on the grounds that the peace process cannot proceed any further without it.

It is now over a month since President Kumaratunga took over the defence and interior portfolios though not much has changed substantially in the defence establishment since then. One of the biggest setbacks for her appears to be her own Presidential media apparatus. It is causing her both embarrassment and considerable damage.
Last Thursday, the findings and conclusions of the Athurugiriya Commission report were released to the media. If President Kumaratunga's objective in taking over defence and interior portfolios were to protect national security interests (besides the recent Supreme Court ruling), her own media staff do not seem to be fully conscious of this important fact.

In releasing this 29 page report to the media, her staff has also made available a five page portion which deals with "measures required to enhance the safety of informants of the Directorate of Military Intelligence." As a result, all these safety measures will now have to be re-formulated. Whether such a move will be possible at all remains to be seen. A few examples will explain the reasons:

"Living in Army Camps
All will be confined to Army Camps; and as far away as as possible from the native areas of Informers as possible. Even in Colombo they will be confined to Camps.

Families to see the Informers
Opportunities will be given for their families to visit them in camps.

Training in side-arms
They will be trained in firing and other useful tactics, self defence etc., in Commando Complexes in Ganemulla and Kuda Oya and issued side-arms. The use of side-arms will be monitored to prevent any misuse that will imminently become a threat to the community.
Limited Int. Ops.

They will never be employed for Intelligence Operations alone, but with Military officers in vehicles and only for limited purposes such as "spotting." Tinted vehicles will carry them to withhold identity.

Classes for Informers to instill an awareness
Instruction classes will be held by D/MI to ensure their Personal Safety - viz: Avoidance of careless and loose talk; routine movements, safe meeting places; also the nature of the current threat to them, and to be always on the alert when they move; action to be pursued when any threat is observed or "felt" etc.

Instructions to Handlers of Informers Only one Agency to run an Informant
Any Informer should be run by ONLY ONE AGENCY. For instance, REGUPATHY and VARDAN who were killed were also spies of Police. An Informant run by the DMI or DII should be left alone by Police. The Defence Advisor (MoD) will ensure correct guidance in this respect.

Allocation of Lands for Informants
Moves to identify and allocate lands for families of Informers to live in reasonably close proximity to Camps where the latter are billeted are under consideration on an urgent basis. The Army Commander is presently pursuing action in this respect. Such informant communities or colonies will be given security cover by the Intelligence Authorities in co-operation with the Army/Police.

Foreign employment
Opportunities to afford Foreign Employment to Informers whose lives are acutely imperilled, are under consideration; e.g. as Welfare Officers in the Middle East, as required by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The Army Commander/Defence Advisor will take appropriate action in this regard.

Selective Enlistment as Soldiers
Since all such Informers cannot be mobilized and called upon to live in Army Camps, a selected number will be considered for enlistment as soldiers based on eligibility, and confined to Camps. They will be permitted to visit homes only in unavoidable circumstances, and under Armed Escort; arrangements will be made for their safety/security.

Those not enlisted as Soldiers - will be necessary to relocate them immediately in Safe Houses OUTSIDE areas where they presently reside. Minimal contact with them will make it difficult for LTTE to spot them.

I have chosen to list some of the above as examples from a lengthy list. This is among the pages of the Commission report officially released by the President's office to the media, except to The Sunday Times. I obtained an official copy on Friday, a day following the release, after appealing to Janadasa Peiris, Director General (Media) of the President.

More often such appeals for press releases have to be made to Mr. Peiris. That is even a day or two after they are made available to other media. The commission report has now been widely circulated since it was formally released. Therefore, isn’t the release of details concerning safety measures for informants not a serious security breach? How could intelligence authorities ensure the safety and protection of their informants in the future? One cannot help but say, that though not intended, this callous negligence by officials is also a form of betrayal.

That such blunders are continuing to be caused by the Presidential media staff since November 4 seems to have not caught the attention of anyone responsible in the Presidency. It began with reports on the declaration of a state of emergency, leaked by the staff though there was no such declaration. The catalogue is too long to list.
Matters relating to defence were badly neglected by the UNF prompting a take over. Now that defence is in President Kumaratunga's hands, she cannot allow it to be much worse. Far too many blunders are taking place in just five weeks after take over. If the declining trend is not arrested, a nation will be defenceless.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Blunders and cover-ups by top brass humiliate govt.

The series of blunders and cover-ups by the top brass of the armed forces continued this week, resulting in the loss of many lives, and international condemnation of Sri Lanka that the country can ill-afford as it battles with the LTTE menace.

The incident that captured the headlines throughout the world was the army’s shelling of a refugee camp in Kathiraveli, Batticaloa on Wednesday, which killed at least 28 people, and wounded over a hundred. While the incident drew universal condemnation of the government and the army, it did not alter the balance of power on the battlefield.

The facts as can be proved are that several army camps came under artillery attack in the Valaichchenai area. The army used a "radar-grab" system that attempts to determine the location of the gun when it is fired. The army then fired back, and correctly hit the spot it had identified.

However, the site was a refugee camp housing more than 2,000 Tamil people displaced from the Sampur area. The final casualty toll is not clear, but is confirmed by the ICRC to already include 23 dead and 125 wounded.

What is not clear is whether the LTTE actually fired from the refugee camp at all. The army says the radar readings say so. The LTTE denies it. The SLMM and ICRC did not find any guns or evidence that guns had been there. But then, the Tigers are not likely to let the SLMM and ICRC visit the scene until all evidence of guns was removed. So the findings of the SLMM and ICRC are inconclusive. The Tigers could have easily moved the gun quickly in a lorry or towed by a tractor, and wiped away all evidence in the area, before allowing the foreigners in.

The radar grab system is of dubious value. Up to now, intelligence has not been able to confirm that army shelling of an LTTE gun position identified by radar, has ever resulted in the destruction of any of the Tigers’ artillery guns. In such a highly populated area, where numbers have swelled due to the influx of refugees, relying on the radar grab system is asking for disaster.

What is known, is that the LTTE has habitually used human shields over the last 20 years of the war. So it is quite likely that there were in fact LTTE guns at the refugee camp.

Survivors from the camp have said that there were no such guns there. However, this evidence is also questionable. People who have suffered the death of their families and friends due to the army’s artillery fire, and are themselves severely wounded, would naturally harbour a hatred towards the army, and say that it was an unprovoked attack.

What is known for certain is that the Vakarai area has over 50,000 people, most of them refugees. They are in reality being held hostage by the Tiger terrorists, and are being forcibly prevented from leaving the area. A few hundred have managed to flee by boat, but sources in the area say that the Tigers have now stationed cadres along the shore and have even fired into the air to prevent people from boarding the boats.

human shield tactics

However, knowing the situation, and the predicament of the civilians, the action of the army is not acceptable. What the army should have done a long time ago, in fact immediately after the Sampur area was captured, was to launch an assault and recapture Vakarai, driving the Tigers almost completely out of the Batticaloa district. This would also liberate all of these Tamil civilians. Unfortunately, the army lost the services of some 700 soldiers during its misadventure in Muhamalai. As a result, there are too few troops for such an operation. Thus the army is reduced to merely firing back with artillery. Given the human shield tactics that have long been adopted by Tigers, this week’s tragedy was bound to happen, sooner or later.

In fact, the Muhamalai blunder has now been conveniently swept under the carpet. Why Army Chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka did not remove the officer responsible for the operation, has never been explained to the public. Or is it because the officer responsible is sitting in a top position at Army Headquarters? What is known is that the operation was launched without the knowledge of almost all those whose authorization it required, includin g President Mahinda Rajapakse, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, and Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera. Neither did the commanders of the other two services, Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke and Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, know about it. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse had been asked permission, and had expressly forbidden the operation!

The Kathiraveli incident and the plight of the refugees in Vakarai, literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, is a direct result of the army’s Muhamalai misadventure.

If the leadership of the army and navy had been more competent, the government would be in a position of great strength today, with control over almost all of the Eastern Province, and a firm grip on the Jaffna Peninsula. And the Tigers would not have dared to walk out of peace talks.

Meanwhile, the LTTE on Thursday evening once again attempted to destroy a convoy moving from Trincomalee to the Jaffna Peninsula. The stout defence of the escorting Dvoras prevented any harm from coming to the 300 Tamil civilians on board the ship. But two Dvoras were sunk, with 20 sailors killed and another four captured by the LTTE.

The navy has claimed no less than 22 Sea Tiger boats destroyed, 8 by the Dvoras and 14 by air force helicopter gunships and Kfir jets. But there is no independent confirmation of this yet. What does seem strange is that the navy was unable to prevent the Sea Tiger boats from stopping to pick up the navy sailors in the water, if they were being so hotly pursued by the air force.

Pro-LTTE media showed pictures of the four captured sailors and named them as "Indika Prasantha Pitiyakumbura, 30, (registration number: EE17275) Mechanical Engineer from 37C, Kirindiweva, Pundalu Oya, Nuwara Eliya; Saminda Kumara Hewage, 28, (XS 25749), Leading Seaman, Peliyakanda, Galewela, and Kamal Hemantha Kumarasiri, 26, (XS 29966), Padavi Parakramapura, Anuradhapura, all three from the Dvora P461, and Priyanka Medadeniya, 21, (SS38801), Ordinary Seaman from Nalanda, Matale of Dvora P416 who was wounded."

The LTTE also paraded heavy guns and ammunition, including a 23 mm canon, that they claim were stripped from the Dvoras before they sank.

extreme exaggeration

In fact, the Tigers claim that none of their vessels were sunk, although admitting that five Sea Tiger cadres were killed in the fighting. The Tigers used the captured guns and the sailors to support their claim that the Sea Tigers "chased the SLN vessels into Kankesanthurai harbour". This of course is an extreme exaggeration.

This incident highlighted the continuing folly of the navy in trying to force convoys of ships through to Kankesanthurai from Trincomalee, despite repeated attacks. Ever since the Tigers captured the A9 road in 1990, for the last 16 years, they have attacked naval convoys on the sea route again and again.

We are not for a minute saying that the sea convoys should be stopped. In fact, last week, this column put forward a strategy that requires all land routes to the LTTE-controlled areas to be closed down. Thus, the sea supply line to the isolated Jaffna Peninsula becomes all-important.

What is clear is that the route that the convoys take at present is far too risky. What the navy planners should do is to move the route further out into international waters, so that it becomes more difficult for the Tigers to attack the convoys. In addition, the likelihood of Sea Tiger craft surviving to get home, would also become more remote, as they would be open to attack by the air force and by naval reinforcements for much of the way back.

The navy was fully aware that the Tigers would strike a convoy on this route this week, following the government’s clear stand at the Geneva negotiations that the A9 road would not be opened at Muhamalai, and that it would supply the Peninsula by sea, come hell or high water. The LTTE, whose only demand at the negotiations was that the road be opened, was therefore definitely going to attack the sea route.

Instead of using this knowledge to plan and carry out a different type of operation, the navy tried to go through the treacherous route again, knowing full well that the convoy would be open to attack for more than 150 miles of its route. And attack, the Sea Tigers certainly did, catching the convoy between Vettilaikerni and Point Pedro. The crews of the escorting Dvoras fought back gallantly, but the Tigers had the advantage of the initiative as well as superior numbers.


In war it is the side which has the initiative that wins almost all of the time, except in very rare occasions when the defending side has superior intelligence and defensive capabilities.

Why the convoy was in such dangerous waters at 5:15 p.m, when the Sea Tigers could attack and melt away into the darkness after dusk, when SLAF aircraft cannot operate, is mind-boggling. Clearly, the timing and the route taken were hopeless.

One glaring error on the part of the navy top brass is in selecting cargo ships which are far too slow. Most of the vessels can barely do 15 miles per hour at full speed, and usually steam at about 10 miles per hour. This means that each trip will take one and a half times as long in terms of the time spent in dangerous waters, than if faster ships are used. In addition, it gives the LTTE much more time to plan their attack once the Tigers know that a convoy is at sea. Unfortunately, the navy too often bows to the dictates of unscrupulous businessmen and politicians who require the navy and other government agencies to charter their vessels instead of more suitable ones. Thus the Dvoras, which are capable of nearly 50 miles per hour, and are faster than Sea Tiger craft, are bogged down in escorting such slow vessels.

Unfortunately, such blunders have gone unpunished in the past. For example, in the case of both the Habarana and Galle navy base attacks, the navy is content to punish some of the officers commanding the areas. Instead, it should be scrutinizing the performance of those at the very top, and sending them home.

In the case of Galle, the navy failed to detect the Sea Tiger boats, and incredibly it was President Mahinda Rajapakse who gave Navy Chief Karannagoda the tip off that an attack on the South was imminent. Yet, the navy was unable to locate the boats, until they sailed into Galle harbour. The reason for this is that the navy has lost so many Dvoras destroyed in the last 12 months that the navy could not spare any to protect Galle or any part of the Southern Province. By the time two Dvoras arrived from Colombo, which is itself sparsely guarded, Galle had already been attacked. The scapegoat in this incident now appears to be the Southern Area Commander, who had only taken up the post six days earlier. Perhaps this officer should have done more, but his task would have been infinitely more achievable if the navy commander and headquarters had assigned more Dvoras to him on a permanent basis. With the loss of two more this week, the situation has only got worse.

With regard to Habarana, one wonders what the top brass at navy headquarters was thinking, to have more than 400 sailors gather completely unprotected at a site only a few yards from a main road, and have them do this on a regular basis! Such a site should have been treated as a shore base of the navy, with permanent sentries, concrete barriers, and other roadblocks. Instead, it was treated as though it was a mere picnic spot, and the suicide bombers were able to drive straight in, ram a navy bus, and then explode their truck bomb! The setting up of such a base should have been directed from headquarters, to ensure that the standard security precautions and installations taken by the navy at all its other bases, were applied at Habarana. Instead, the lives of 140 sailors were snuffed out, because of the lack of proper leadership.

Safe house raid: heads roll as Army Chief cracks the whip

The sequel to the Police raid on the Army Safe House at Athurugiriya two years ago, which brought disastrous consequences to Sri Lanka's national security interests, began to unfurl last Friday.

That morning, Major General Ivan Dassanayake, Adjutant General, walked into the electronically secure office room of the Army Commander in the now shut down Baladaksha Mawatha. There, whilst Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda watched, Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, broke the news.

He told Maj. Gen. Dassanayake he would have to retire from his post on March 31, this year - three months ahead of his scheduled date of retirement. This is upon reaching his mandatory maximum period of three years in the rank on June 30.

However, Maj. Gen. Dassanayake was eligible to appeal for an extension of service until December 16, this year, when he would have reached 55 years. That premature exit from service was being imposed on him for his role in the raid; he was told by Lt. Gen. Balagalle. Maj. Gen. Dassanayake is learnt to have strongly denied complicity and pleaded innocence over allegations made against him.

At the time the Police raided the Safe House run by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Maj. Gen. Dassanayake was the Provost Marshal of the Army. In this capacity the Sri Lanka Corps Military Police (SLCMP) was his responsibility. Since then, he has assumed office as the Army's Adjutant General and Colonel Commandant of the SLCMP. As Adjutant General, he is a Principal Staff Officer and is responsible for the directorates of Personnel Administration, Welfare, Medical Services, Pay and Records, Rehabilitation, Humanitarian Law, Recruiting, Legal and Provost Marshal.

Later that same afternoon, Colonel Parakrama Dissanayake, Deputy Commandant of the Army Training College at Diyatalawa appeared before the Army Chief and his deputy. Also present was Military Secretary, Maj. Gen. K.B. Egodawala.

Lt. Gen. Balagalle told this one time Commanding Officer of the (first) Military Intelligence Corps and Staff Officer at DMI, that his commission as a Colonel in the Sri Lanka Army was being withdrawn. He said he was being dismissed with effect from January 30, this year.

As Col. Dissanayake walked out of the Army Commander's office after learning the bad news, walking in was Major Najith Karunaratne, head of military intelligence in the Jaffna peninsula. He was also told that his commission as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army was being withdrawn and he was expelled from service with effect from January 30, this year.

Col. Dissanayake was summoned to Colombo from Diyatalawa. Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, was advised to direct Maj. Karunaratne, who was on leave, to report to Army Headquarters by Friday. These were done on Thursday evening by Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Egodawala.

The disciplinary action against the two would mean that after January 30, they will be forbidden from holding their ranks. In other words they would be reduced to civilian status and will not be entitled to any Army pension. In addition, all military installations would also be out of bounds for the two.

This disciplinary action against the three officers is the Army's main response to the findings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Safe House raid. They were determined by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle upon a directive from President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as exclusively revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report - January 18). She had directed that the commissions of those Army officers who were directly or indirectly involved be withdrawn. She had also directed that other ranks involved be discharged from service.

President Kumaratunga's directive, The Sunday Times learnt, came after her advisers made two separate detailed studies of the report submitted by former Appeal Court Judge, D. Jayawickrema. He was the one man Presidential Commission that probed "into the disclosure of the existence of and the raid on the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at Athurugiriya."

Lt. Gen. Balagalle is learnt to have forwarded to President Kumaratunga last Monday his own recommendations on how punishment should be meted out to those on whom indictments were made by the Commission. After obtaining her approval to initiate such action, he is learnt to have also sought and obtained a written directive on Friday from Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath to enforce them. The move meant that both the Commander-in-Chief and the Defence Secretary have formally endorsed the action determined by Lt. Gen. Balagalle as Commander of the Army.

Although President Kumaratunga was expected to review the Army Commander's recommendations with her own advisers, before giving instructions for a go ahead, the move did not materialise.

Besides the disciplinary action on the three officers on Friday, another officer, Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, is to be marched before Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Kottegoda, in the coming week. He is to be warned for refusing to testify before an Army Court of Inquiry that probed matters connected with the raid. He is also to be deprived of any promotions or extensions of service. Two more officers are also to face disciplinary action and their performance kept under observation for a year. Corporal Anura Peiris of the DMI who had attempted to obtain the address of the Safe House is also to be dismissed from service.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry findings went into nine separate aspects. In response to "Whether there was any information given by any personnel of the Armed Forces disclosing the existence of a Safe House at Athurugiriya," the Commission report said:

"The existence of the Safe House operated by the Sri Lanka Army at No.844 Millennium City, Athurugiriya is beyond any doubt. Except a retired Lieutenant Colonel, Jayavi Fernando, all other witnesses including the Army Commander and other officers, the Inspector General of Police and the other senior Police Officers who gave evidence as witnesses before this Commission accepted that this was a legally maintained Safe House by the Sri Lanka Army. Even Jayavi Fernando expressed the view that there was an Army sub-unit at this house and that it was not a safe house.

"There is strong evidence that Col. D.P. Dissanayake, USP psc, made attempts to obtain the address of this Safe House before the 2001 December General Election, and also just a few days before the raid through Major M.B. de S. Jayatilleke, RSP MIC - GSO 1 DMI, and Corp. M.P. Anura Peiris, MPA MIC. The evidence of these officers themselves proves this fact.

"Knowing Capt. Nilam very well there was no necessity for Col. D.P. Dissanayake to find out the address and the whereabouts of Nilam through his junior officers. If he wanted he could have directly contacted Capt. Nilam and got whatever information he wanted. Col. Dissanayake's explanation was that he wanted to contact Capt. Nilam to get his assistance in respect of the house Col. Dissanayake was building at Malabe.

"The evidence before this Commission further discloses the fact that Lt. Col. Padmasiri Udugampola, SLCMP, brother of ASP Kulasiri Udugampola, Major General Ivan Dassanayake and ColonelK.H.N.S.S. Dharmaratna, Major A.C.A. de Soysa, SLCMP, Major A.S.P. Podiralahamy, SLCMP, Major K.U. Jayanetti, SLCMP, Major B.M.A.N.S.K. Karunaratne MIC Corps, J.H.A.P. de Silva, JHAT-MIC, Corp. M.P.A. Peiris, JHAT-MIC were all aware of the impending raid and have directly and indirectly assisted Kulasiri Udugampola in raiding this Safe House.

"If these officers had any doubts about the Safe House they should have brought it to the notice of the Army Commander and moved the Military Police to investigate. But these officers, without doing so, have conspired with Kulasiri Udugampola to raid this Safe House for their own personal benefits. Moreover, none of these officers have informed the Army Commander or the Director, DMI, about the raid before the raid."

After the Commission ruled that the raid "was a betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation" and concluded that Mr. Kulasiri Udugampola, then SP in charge of Operations in the Kandy Police Division "backed up with political patronage" stalled these covert operations and "betrayed this gallant unit," there was considerable public outrage. This is particularly after state run media, both electronic and print, gave wide publicity to the Commission's findings and recommendations. There was many an interview with the man on the street where private citizens voiced deep concern over how national security interests were compromised and demanded deterrent action.

In this context, the question naturally arises whether the actions ordered by President Kumaratunga, Commander-in-Chief in meting out punishment to those involved have been carried out justly and fairly. The question is being asked not only because there have been many pressure moves to sweep the whole issue under the carpet. In fact, for two long years after the raid, the United National Front Government ignored the entire episode though more than 44 persons - intelligence operatives, informants and the like - have been murdered since the raid on the Safe House - the result of its secret activities becoming public.

Captain Mohamed Nilam, who led Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) operations from the Athurugiriya Safe House together with a team of other Army men have gone to Supreme Court to complain their fundamental rights have been violated. The judgement in this case is pending. It is known that some very influential personalities in the UNF tried to persuade Captain Nilam and party to withdraw their case. They were offered attractive cash rewards and promised employment cum refuge in a country of their choice together with their families. When such persuasion failed, some of these personalities began hurling frivolous accusations at the men and challenged their roles as LRRP operatives.

Since the Presidential Commission of Inquiry has noted that the raid was an act of treachery that harmed Sri Lanka's security interests, the question is raised in the national interest. The Sunday Times learnt that Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, had explained to the authorities concerned the reasons why he has personally determined the punishment to be meted out to only some and left out others on whom strictures have been made by the Presidential Commission. He may well be quite right in saying so.

On the other hand, several important questions arise. It was Lt. Gen. Balagalle who was Commander of the Army on January 2, 2002 when the Police raided the Safe House. At the behest of then Minister of Defence, Tilak Marpana, he appointed an Army Court of Inquiry to go into the matter. This Court was constituted by him in consultation with then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando.

This Court of Inquiry was headed by Maj. Gen. Ivan Dassanayake and comprised Brigadier M.R.W. de Zoysa, Colonel K.A.N.S.K.A. Dharmaratne and Col. J. Pathirana. This inquiry concluded that the Safe House run by the DMI was engaged in legitimate counter terrorist activity. It also determined that all the military equipment found in this Safe House was obtained legitimately and after laid down procedures were followed.

Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, later studied the findings of this Court of Inquiry. He was satisfied that only legitimate counter terrorist activity was conducted from the Safe House. He therefore directed then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, to order the Army Commander to appoint another Court of Inquiry. This was mainly to ascertain how the information about the existence of the Safe House leaked thus causing colossal damage to security interests.

This second Court of Inquiry was headed by Maj. Gen. Jayantha Ranaweera and comprised Maj. Gen. Sivali Wanigasekera, Brig. M.R.W. de Zoysa and Col. AW.J.C. de Silva. Here is what this second Court of Inquiry was called upon to go into by Lt. Gen. Balagalle:

a. Whether any member of the Army obtained, or sought to obtain, without authority and did cause a leak of any information relating to the existence of the Intelligence Cell, otherwise referred to as the "Safe House" at Athurugiriya, or any, or all, authorised activity carried out thereat:

b. Whether by obtaining, and or, leaking such information, did any member of the Army, wilfully and or deliberately, exercise spiteful and traitorous motives by:

1. Leaking secret and operationally lethal military information regarding the existence of the Int Cell (or Safe House) and its activities.

2. Whether such acts were calculated to bring into ridicule the Army in general and the DMI in particular.

3. Whether there were any attempts, wilfully or otherwise, to tarnish the reputation of any senior officer or officers.

c. Whether any unauthorised action by any member of the Army has:

1. Affected the nation's National Security Interests.

2. Compromised covert operations which brought great honour and success to the Army's counter terrorist operations.

3. Exposed the identities of members of the Int Cell (or Safe House) at Athurugiriya and consequently endangered their lives.

4. Assisted the enemy by providing inside information of covert operations of the DMI, which the enemy otherwise would not have had access to, and thereby traitorously assisted the enemy to formulate counter measures.

5. Exposed the identities of informants and thus placed their lives at risk.

6. Caused a completely erroneous and wrong image about the Army in the minds of Political Leaders, Security Forces, Police and General Public.

7. Other matters arising from above or incidental thereto.

The second Court of Inquiry findings brought out answers to all the above issues. Based on that, Lt. Gen. Balagalle, gave his own opinion in a four page document forwarded to the Ministry of Defence. In this, he noted that national security was severely affected and declared that the Police raid severely affected future counter terrorist operations of the Army.

In this report, he recommended action against Col. D.P. Dissanayake, Col. P. Udugampola, Major Najith Karunaratne, Major H.B. de S. Jayatithilaka, Maj. K.V. Jayanetti, Corporal Anura Peiris, and Corporal J.H.A.P. de Silva. The only exception to such action was in respect of Maj. Gen. Ivan Dassanayake. However, why such action was was not taken immediately thereafter is not clear. Whether this was because Ministry of Defence approval was not forthcoming is also not clear. However, the Army Commander is fully empowered to act on disciplinary matters without seeking recourse to the Ministry of Defence. That includes findings of Courts of Inquiry appointed by him.

All this was when the subject of defence was in the hands of the UNF. And more than two years went by. Nothing at all was done. It seems ironic that action against the Army officers and men had to await the outcome of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry - a matter initiated by the President Kumaratunga as Commander-in-Chief. Since she had been responsible for ordering this probe, it would have been better if she used her prerogative and directed the course of action to be taken instead of the Army Commander being called upon to report on what such action should be.

The fact that he did so raises more questions than it answers. After all, she knew all the reasons why a Commission of Inquiry had to be appointed to probe the matter. She was in the know of the findings of the two Army Courts of Inquiry that sat earlier.

But it seems hilarious if not ridiculous. Once the Commission's findings are made known, the Army Commander is called upon to recommend courses of action. He makes them and awaits the approval of the President (who is Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence). Thereafter, once approval is given, he seeks and obtains a directive from the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. That is to go ahead with the same action.

This is all the more intriguing because the findings of the two Courts of Inquiry (appointed by the Army Commander himself) legally empowered him to act on them much earlier, more than two long years before. Why was this not done? In that context, calling upon him to recommend measures after the Commission's findings makes matters much worse.

In fact it raises questions on why a Presidential Commission of Inquiry had to be appointed at all to probe the Police raid on the Safe House? What purpose has its recommendations, which were highly publicized, served? Was not the Commission of Inquiry much wider in scope and content than the limited focus of the Army Courts of Inquiry?

Therefore was not the Presidential Commission of Inquiry an exercise in futility? It now amounts to only a sham exercise used to gain political mileage and to point the finger at political opponents. For this purpose millions of tax payer's money has been wasted. The long winding process of the Commission began in August 2002 and ended in November 2003. The Commission heard 69 witnesses. Thousands of pages of evidence was recorded and now lay at the Government Archives.

This unfortunate situation further illustrates the acute lack of any mechanism at the Ministry of Defence or the President's Office to monitor vital matters relating to national security interests. Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath, is inexperienced. It appears that he is still learning through a trial and error process. President Kumaratunga is far too busy with many significant political developments. There is no Minister of Defence and no Deputy. Hence, it is not surprising, that like in this instance, many matters defence and security continue to drift day by day whilst some succeed effortlessly in furthering their own agenda.

Round one of the Athurugiriya episode, one that concerns a vital aspect of Sri Lanka's security appears to have ended in virtual comedy. That is after much fanfare and talk of treachery and betrayal. Now the public wait for round two. That is when Police Chief, Indra de Silva names a team to probe the raid by former SP and now ASP, Kulasiri Udugampola. Would that also mean taking departmental action that has already been recommended? That is after another long winding, time cousuming probe is over. We will soon know !!

12 wanni tigers including military leader killed

In an attack carried out by Karuna faction of the tiger organization in an un-cleared area at Wakare in Batticcaloa,12 members of wanni faction of the tiger organization were killed. One of the dead wanni tigers is said to be a military leader of the organization.

The double cab in which the military leader was traveling had been attacked while the group of wanni tigers was moving from Wakare to Werrugal. Others dead were his security squad who had traveled with him for his security.

The intelligence sections of the security forces have revealed that a member of Karuna faction who had been with the wanni tigers had carried out the attack.

With the attack a conflict has developed between wanni tigers in the Eastern Province state information received by intelligence sections. Journeys undertaken in the East by leaders of wanni tiger organization are done with greatest secrecy and with total security.

As such, how the Karuna faction got the information regarding the movements of the killed military leader and how its member penetrated the convoy of the military leader is being thoroughly investigated by wanni tigers.